You know how sometimes the moment you meet some one you just know, before they say a single word, that you’re just not going to get along? Usually you can’t put your finger on it. It’s just a gut feeling. Something about the other person just puts you off right away.

The term “gaydar” has been around for a long time, referring originally to the ability of some gay men to identify closeted gay men through casual interaction. It’s been broadened over the years to refer more generically to the ability (or inability) of people to intuitively guess another person’s sexual orientation through a variety of non-verbal cues. A humorous discussion of occurs in the lyrics of the Ari Gold & Kendra Ross duet, “He’s on My Team”:

For a long time people explained the phenomenon away as being about looking for stereotypical behaviors, hair styles, and so on. But there have been numerous studies that show that people can guess a person’s sexual orientation correctly at a rate significantly above pure chance from very incomplete information. My personal favorite was the one that showed test subjects photos cropped down to a rectangle that showed only the person’s eyes, not even the entire eyebrow, so just the bridge of the nose and two eyes, nothing else.

On the other hand, some studies have shown that things people assume would be a giveaway aren’t. A study of whether the way a person walked could identify orientation showed that people did only slightly better than a coin toss at guessing correctly. Others have shown that even though watching extremely brief, silent video of a person’s mouth (other parts of the face not shown) while talking was enough to let people guess the sexual orientation of a person correctly, listening to recordings of a person talking is not.

My personal gaydar’s accuracy is spotty. I have a few amusing stories of not only not realizing another guy was gay, but completely misinterpreting his attempts to flirt. On the other hand, there have been a few guys I was certain were gay or bi, who friends insisted couldn’t possibly be, that I eventually learned were.

But while my gaydar can’t be relied upon, my douche-dar is a finely honed instrument. I can spot that arrogant jerk who blends an inflated sense of self-worth with a complete ignorance of how unpleasant others find him, compounded by a lack of manners. He’s the sort of person who uses “I’m just being honest” as an excuse to be rude, cruel, and nasty. He thinks he’s the life of the party because people are frequently laughing around him, because he doesn’t realize that sometimes they are laughing at him instead of with, but even more importantly, he doesn’t understand that laughing is often a self-defense mechanism. People laugh when someone is being mean to them as a way to communicate that they aren’t a threat. It’s a nonverbal way of saying, “Please, don’t hurt me!”

They aren’t completely lacking in social skills, they just lean very heavily on the manipulation and coercion end of the scale. So they have “friends” but this crowd generally falls into three categories:

  • Other douchebags—though usually minor or wannabe douchebags. Like scavengers following a big predator to live off the scraps.
  • Codependent victims. These people have very low self-esteem or suffer from some other emotional baggage that makes being a punching bag or the butt of the douche’s jokes seem like better than being lonely. The group includes the douche’s boyfriend/girlfriend.
  • People who have some social obligation to spend time and be civil to this person, as much as they’d rather not. Includes relatives of people in the first two categories.

I don’t know what cues I pick up on with these guys. I have correctly assessed the personality traits from a single photograph seen before meeting the person. I’ve even correctly guessed it from watching them play a completely different character in a dramatic production. And so far as I know, I’ve never been wrong.

Seriously. So I wasn’t surprised when the star of a long running TV show which has a very active fan following that writes lots of slash-fic lashed out at a question about gay subtext at a recent convention, ending his spiel by yelling that, “Normal people aren’t gay!”

Guess I’m glad I disliked the show when I watched the pilot eight years ago, huh?

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